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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Looming ban sparks rush on raw beef liver


Staff writer

With the ban on serving raw beef liver due to take effect July 1, gourmets are rushing to get in last-minute meals while the meat industry is strongly opposing the restriction, arguing that the health risks from eating the speciality can be reduced to near zero.

News photo
With fava beans, chianti: Raw beef liver is served in a Shinbashi, Tokyo, eatery in March. KYODO

" 'Rebasashi' (raw beef liver) has always been a popular item," a barbecue restaurant owner in the Kamata district in Tokyo said Wednesday. "But we can't do anything about it if it is banned," the owner, who did not want his name disclosed, said.

Another barbecue restaurant master in Tokyo's Hamamatsucho district said his colleagues are serving all of their beef liver to eager customers before they can even put it in the refrigerator.

This deep appetite for raw liver has also stimulated new demand for a substitute — which is available as "konnyaku," a gelatin with a beef liver flavor. It has a similar feel to the real thing, even though it contains no beef liver at all.

Those who will miss raw beef liver are rushing to buy the special konnyaku.

Haisky Foods Corp., a konnyaku maker based in Kagawa Prefecture, said sales of its product with a beef liver taste grew fortyfold in the past nine months.

"Barbecue houses first made orders for it. Then the demand among 'izakaya' bars and individuals increased. Now orders are coming from the meat sections of supermarkets," President Ryoji Hishitani said by telephone.

The product is colored by tomatoes and squid ink, and flavored by soy sauce and other spices. It is also healthy, with half the calories of beef liver, Hishitani said.

The health ministry will ban restaurants from serving raw beef liver while supermarkets will add labels saying the meat must be cooked before eating.

The move is in response to last year's series of food poisonings involving a raw beef dish called "yukke."

The beef industry is trying to fight the ban.

"As long as one eats raw food, there is no such thing as 'zero risk' food," said Kiichi Kobayashi, a managing director of the All Japan Meat Industry Cooperative Associations.

"It is important to inform consumers of how much risk the food has. But at the same time, one should be free to eat raw food. It is a matter of personal choice," he said.

Kobayashi said the risk from eating raw beef liver can be reduced to almost nothing by washing the meat with sodium hypochlorite and then keeping it frozen. The industry body handed in test results on this technique to the health ministry last week. It does not affect the taste of the meat, Kobayashi said.

The industry group is also considering running sterilization tests on the effectiveness of radiation and calcium, he said.

The group will keep trying to persuade the health ministry, which has said it is open to lifting the ban if it finds any measures to remove the risk of food poisoning.

Violations of the Food Sanitation Act can draw a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of up to ¥2 million, a panel of the Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council under the health ministry said Tuesday.

In April 2011, four people, including a 6-year-old, died and around 180 people suffered from diarrhea and vomiting after eating yukke at barbecue restaurants in Toyama and Fukui prefectures. Another person who was in serious condition died later. The outlets belonged to an operator that had failed to remove surface bacteria before serving the dish raw.



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